People often mistakenly believe that the only way they may be able to make important decisions for their loved ones when a loved one becomes incapacitated is if they are their spouse. This is categorically untrue and much of it stems from uninformed statements collaborated by influential outlets. Whether you’re married, divorced, single, widowed or have a long-term significant other, you may designate that person as your attorney-in-fact at any time. The medium by which you accomplish this is the Power of Attorney.
Generally, the Power of Attorney comes in two forms: 1) a Durable Power of Attorney and 2) a Health Care Power of Attorney (or Advanced Health Care Directives.) Both serve different purposes, and will be explained further below. Before giving a brief explanation of the two, however, it is important to note that these documents are generally drafted with your Last Will and Testament, a document that all individuals should strongly consider having (see earlier blog post).
The Durable Power of Attorney
The DPOA is a document that appoints an individual as attorney-in-fact over your financial affairs. Under Indiana law, a DPOA can include the following specific powers:
real property transactions; tangible personal property transactions; bond, share and commodity transactions; retirement plans; banking transactions; business operating transactions; insurance transactions; transfer or payable on death transfers; beneficiary transactions; gift transactions; fiduciary transactions; claims and litigation; family maintenance; benefits from military service; records, reports and statements; and estate transactions.
Furthermore, the DPOA includes a grant of broad powers pursuant to IC 30-5-5-19. This allows the DPOA to essentially handle all of your matters for you, in the event that you become incapacitated.
This document is paramount to your financial well-being in the event that you become incapacitated. If you fail to have a Power of Attorney, your family will find themselves in a situation in which they must petition the court for a guardianship over you and your financial matters. These can often be strung out and expensive, and financial matters may not be handled as quickly as they need be handled. The added stress of this situation can all be alleviated by simply planning ahead with an estate plan and power of attorney.
Health Care Power of Attorney
The Health Care Power of Attorney gives authority to an individual to make important medical decisions in the event that you become incapacitated. The power authorized by IC 30-5-5-16 include:
To employ or contract with servants, companions or health care providers to care for you; To consent or to refuse health care for you; To admit or release you from a hospital or health care facility; To have access to records, including medical records, concerning your condition; To make anatomical gifts on your behalf; To request an autopsy; and To make plans for the disposition of your body.
This is a rather morbid topic, however, planning for this can relieve a great amount of stress and weight from your family’s shoulders. This simple document can allow an individual to make decisions tantamount to your health, that otherwise may not be available to that individual. This is a subject you must discuss with your attorney-in-fact for your advance health care directives, and be clear about what you want done.
There really is no reason to put these planning documents off. Every day they are put off, which happens all too often, is another day you risk not having a decision-maker in place for you in the event that you become incapacitated.